Thomas Jefferson Papers
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John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, 25 June 1813

From John Adams

Quincy June 25. 1813

Dear Sir

your favour of the 15th came to me yesterday, and it is a pleasure to discover that We are only 9 days apart.

Be not Surprised or alarmed. Lindsays Memoirs will do no harm to you or me. you have right and reason to feel and to resent the breach of Confidence. I have had enough of the same kind of Treachery and Perfidy practiced upon me, to know how to Sympathize with you. I will agree with you, in unquallified censure of Such Abuses. They are the worst Species of Tyrany over private Judgment and free Enquiry. They Suppress the free communication of Soul to Soul.

There are critical moments, when Faction, whether in Church or State, will Stick at nothing. Confidence of Friendship the most Sacred, is but a cobweb tie. How few! Oh how few are the exceptions! I could name many Cases of the rule: but will mention but one. Do you remember Tenche Coxe?

you must have misunderstood me, when you understood that I “proposed to write1 on the Subject,” if you meant, to the Public. I have written enough and too much. I have no thought, in this correspondence, but to Satisfy you and2 myself. If our3 Letters Should be Shewn to a friend or two, in confidence; and if that confidence Should be betrayed: your Letters will do you no dishonour. As to mine I care not a farthing, My Reputation has been So much the Sport of the public, for fifty years, and will be with Posterity, that I hold it, a bubble, a Gossameur, that idles in the wanton Summers Air. Now for your Letter

During the three years, that I resided in England, I was Somewhat acquainted, with Lindsay, Disnay, Farmer4 Price, Priestley, Kippis, Jebb, Vaughans, Bridgen, Brand Hollis &c &c &c. even Dr Towers was not personally unknown to me, A Belsham was once introduced to me, probably the Author of Lindsays Memoirs. I had much conversation with him. Whether he is a Brother of Belsham the Historian, I know not, Lindsay was a Singular Character, unless Jebb was his parrallel, Unitarianism and Biblical Criticism were the great Characteristicks of them all. All were learned, Scientific, and moral, Lindsay was an heroic Christian5 Philosopher. All, professed Friendship for America, and these were almost all, who pretended to any Such Thing.

I wish you could live a year in Boston, hear their Divines; read their publications, especially the Repository. you would See how Spiritual Tyranny, and ecclesiastical Domination are beginning in our Country: at least Struggling for birth.

Now, for your political Letter.—No. I have not done, with Spiritual Pride, in high places and in low. I would trust these liberal Christians in London and in Boston, with Power, just as Soon, as I would, Calvin or Cardinal Lorrain; just as Soon as I would the Quakers of Pensylvania; just as Soon as I would Methodists or Moravians; just as Soon as I would Rochefoucault and Condorcet; just as Soon as I would the Œconomists6 of France; just as Soon as I would Bolingbroke and Voltaire, Hume and Gibbon; nay just as Soon, as I would Robespierre or Brissot. I can go no higher, unless I add The League and the Fronde in France, or Charles the first and Archbishop Laud in England and Ireland.

Let me Say, however, by the Way, that I fully believe, that Priestley is only guilty of an indiscretion, very pardonable, in this thing. Lindsay is perfectly innocent. Belsham has done the wrong. I cannot but contrast his Conduct, with that of Disney, who found among the Papers of Brand Hollis, Letters from me and my Wife, which We had both forgotten. He wrote to Us and asked leave to publish them. Neither of Us recollected a Word of them for We had no Copies. We both left to his discretion to publish what he pleased and he has done it. I expected much more nonsense and extravagance in mine than appears, for I wrote to Hollis without reserve.

Checks and Ballances, Jefferson, however you and your Party may have ridiculed them, are our only Security, for the progress of Mind, as well as the Security of Body.—Every Species of these Christians would persecute Deists, as Soon as either Sect would persecute another, if it had unchecked and unballanced Power. Nay, the Deists would persecute Christians, and Atheists would persecute Deists, with as unrelenting Cruelty, as any Christians would persecute them or one another. Know thyself, human Nature!

I am not Sure, that I am yet ready to return to Politicks.

Upon the whole, I think this is enough for one Letter. Politicks Shall be adjourned to a future day. not a very distant one, however.

John Adams

RC (DLC); at foot of text: “President Jefferson”; endorsed by TJ as received 8 July 1813 and so recorded in SJL. FC (Lb in MHi: Adams Papers).

Robert Burns alluded to the fragile cobweb tie of good fellowship in an 8 June 1789 letter to Robert Ainslie (Robert H. Cromek, Reliques of Robert Burns; Consisting Chiefly of Original Letters, Poems, and Critical Observations on Scottish Songs (Philadelphia, 1809), 61. In 1799 and 1800 Tench coxe published private letters and conversations with Adams in an effort to prove that the president was a monarchist (Jacob E. Cooke, Tench Coxe and the Early Republic [1978], 357–60, 378–85). gossameur, that idles in the wanton summers air quotes from William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, act 2, scene 6. Adams became acquainted with the vaughans, Benjamin and William, during his residence in London (J. C. D. Clark, The Language of Liberty, 1660–1832: Political Discourse and Social Dynamics in the Anglo-American World [1994], 329). The Catholic (or Holy) league of the sixteenth century attempted to eliminate French Protestants, while the fronde was the French civil war of the mid-seventeenth century. Having asked leave from John Adams and Abigail Smith Adams, John Disney published some of their letters in his Memoirs of Thomas Brand-Hollis (London, 1808), 30–40.

1Extraneous closing quotation mark editorially omitted.

2Preceding two words not in FC.

3FC: “your.”

4Word interlined.

5Manuscript: “Christion.” FC: “Christian.”

6Manuscript: “Œconomits.” FC: “œconomists.”

Index Entries

  • Adams, Abigail Smith (John Adams’s wife); correspondence with T. B. Hollis search
  • Adams, John; and T. Belsham’s Memoirs of the Late Reverend Theophilus Lindsey search
  • Adams, John; letters from search
  • Adams, John; on publication of correspondence search
  • Adams, John; on religion search
  • Belsham, Thomas; Memoirs of the Late Reverend Theophilus Lindsey, M.A. search
  • Belsham, Thomas; mentioned search
  • Belsham, William; mentioned search
  • Bolingbroke, Henry St. John, Viscount; mentioned search
  • Bridgen, Edward search
  • Brissot de Warville, Jacques Pierre search
  • Burns, Robert; Scottish poet search
  • Calvin, John; mentioned search
  • Charles de Lorraine search
  • Charles I, king of England search
  • Condorcet, Marie Jean Antoine Nicolas de Caritat, marquis de; J. Adams on search
  • Coxe, Tench; and J. Adams search
  • Disney, John; English Unitarian search
  • Farmer, Hugh; English theologian search
  • France; Catholic League search
  • France; the Fronde search
  • Gibbon, Edward; mentioned search
  • Hollis, Thomas Brand; and J. and A. Adams search
  • Hume, David; mentioned search
  • Jebb, John; English theologian search
  • Kippis, Andrew; English theologian search
  • La Rochefoucauld, François de search
  • Laud, William, archbishop of Canterbury search
  • Lindsey, Theophilus; Memoirs of the Late Reverend Theophilus Lindsey search
  • Lindsey, Theophilus; mentioned search
  • Memoirs of the Late Reverend Theophilus Lindsey, M.A. (T. Belsham) search
  • Price, Richard (British author and philosopher); as theologian and moral philosopher search
  • Priestley, Joseph; mentioned search
  • Priestley, Joseph; TJ’s correspondence with search
  • Robespierre, Maximilien François Marie Isidore de; leader of French Revolution search
  • Shakespeare, William; quoted search
  • Towers, Joseph Lomas; mentioned search
  • Vaughan, Benjamin search
  • Vaughan, William; and J. Adams search
  • Voltaire (François Marie Arouet); mentioned search